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African safaris are an ultimate bucket list trip for many people, but are often difficult to do and with good reason: They cost a pretty penny, require a great deal of planning and involve far-flung travel. They also generate a lot of questions. Following are answers to some common ones that will help ensure your big investments in both time and money are well spent.

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great migration, africa

What are the best countries to visit?  

The great news is that there are so many options. The bad news is that that makes it hard to decide. It all comes down to what type of trip you want. Kenya, the birthplace of the modern safari, has plenty of lux lodges and good chances of seeing the Big Five (lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants and Cape buffalo). If you want to witness approximately two million wildebeest traveling en masse during the annual Great Migration, book a trip to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania in June or July. Meanwhile, a trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa also puts you in close proximity to other natural wonders, such as Victoria Falls. Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Rwanda are also popular up-and-coming safari destinations.

Large African Elephants in the plains of the Masai Mara

What animals will I see?

There are two answers to this one… Because you’re out in the wild and not at a zoo, there are no guarantees you’ll see anything. If an outfitter tells you otherwise, consider it a red flag. But, if there is something you feel you absolutely have to see—a pride of lions, a tower of giraffes, a parade of elephants—hedge your bets by heading to a destination that’s known for them. The Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is considered one of the best places for spotting big cats, for example, while Uganda is thought to be the top spot for gorilla trekking.

Will I need visas and/or immunizations?

The short answer is most probably yes. Check the Center for Disease Control website for specific immunization guidelines for your travel destination, and plan a visit to your doctor or a travel health clinic at least four to six weeks before your trip. Country-specific travel document requirements for U.S. citizens can be found on the State Department website.

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Should I use a tour operator?

If it’s your first trip to Africa, it’s probably a good idea. Because there are so many countries and types of safaris to choose from, an expert can help you plan an itinerary that’s best suited to your budget, taste and timeline. They can also connect you with expert guides who can make sure you get the most wildlife viewing out of your game drives and arrange unique experiences, such as hot-air balloon rides and homestays with nearby tribes.

What should I pack?

Packing for a safari is not easy. You’ve got to bring the right clothes for varying temperatures (game drives are usually around sunrise and sunset), protection from tsetse flies, high sun and dust, plus outfits for your down time (think afternoon tea and lounging by the pool). Then there’s your gear: Binoculars and a good camera are essential. All that usually has to fit in soft-sided luggage with a weight limit (usually 35-40 pounds) due to restrictions on small prop planes and land vehicles used for local travel.

Melissa Adey, a travel planner with outfitter &beyond, shares some tips on how to make it work: “Start with T-shirts and lighter layers with a warm jacket or wind breaker on top to keep the wind and cold out,” she advises. “Closed-toed shoes are ideal, but bring sandals for the middle of the day when it can be warmer.” Dust can make whites dirty quickly, she notes, but darker colors like black and navy can attract tsetse flies common in some areas. Opt for neutrals like greens, olives, browns and khakis. Don’t forget a good hat (a classic safari hat, plus a wool or fleece beanie for cooler times), sunglasses and plenty of sunblock and strong bug spray.

How can I best photograph what I see?

If there was ever a time to splurge on a good camera, this is it. Bring plenty of SIM cards, extra batteries, a dust-bag to protect it all from the elements, and maybe even a back-up camera. If you’re using a tour operator, some provide binoculars—check ahead to see if that’s one less thing you have to bring along.

Will I be safe?

It can be a little off-putting (okay, a lot) to see the open-air vehicles used for most game drives when you realize you’ll likely be mere feet from lions, rhinos and other not-so-friendly creatures. But following basic safari etiquette (stay in your vehicle, don’t stand up, keep your voice down) and listening to your guides should ensure you’ll be just fine. On walking safaris, don’t bring food, don’t run, and be sure to wear clothes that help you blend into your surroundings. Don’t walk around camps at night on your own—most have armed guards to escort you from rooms to common areas. It’s best to use them.

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Judy Sutton Taylor

Judy Sutton Taylor

Judy is a journalist, travel lover and mom in Chicago. Find her on Twitter at @jsuttontaylor.
Judy Sutton Taylor

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